The Good Listener – Sermon – Rev. Alex Moir – 16 May 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“The Lord on high is mightier far than the noise of great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea.  Thy law stands firm, and holiness is the beauty of thy temple, while time shall last, O Lord.” 

— Psalm 93:4-5

Prayer

How grateful we are, gracious Father, for Your mighty ways in our lives.  As the Psalmist of old, we marvel that we are “fearfully and wonderfully” made.  All creation reveals a careful and complex design that defies the theories of randomness and chance.  But it is for Your careful plan of our redemption that makes us most thankful.  We pray today in the name of the One called “the author and finisher of our faith”, the one named Jesus.  Amen. 

Song

Today's Message: The Good Listener

Scripture Reading: James 1:19-22

Listening and Doing

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Welcome back to our May journey through this message series on listening!  Just to recap, our topic on week # 1 was “Listen to the Word”, which reminded us of the important role that listening to scripture plays in our lives.  It was followed closely last week by a message (“But God Has Surely Listened”) reminding us of the wonderful scriptural truth that the heavenly Father listens to us when we pray.  This week we venture into the New Testament for the first time in our series, looking into the epistle or letter written by the first Christian pastor, James.  As we know, the topic of listening is certainly addressed in this passage.  The verses for our consideration do so around three movements …

Our author begins this passage by advising the Christian brothers (and sisters!) that they “should be quick to listen and slow to speak … (v. 19).”  We might call this some “garden variety” advice on the subject.  It could possibly address the dynamic we face in life when in conversation with another … that of the tendency to be thinking of what to say next!  We know that, when we are preoccupied in this way, it diminishes much of what can be of value when we are relating to others.  The simple anatomical truth of having two ears and one mouth might suggest to us the effort that needs to be made toward listening as opposed to talking.  It was said of Dr. Robert Schuller, during his very effective pastoral ministry at Garden Grove Community Church in California, that when you were talking to Dr. Schuller you always had his full attention.  That’s really what it’s all about, as Professor Wayne Oates states in his little book, “When You Can’t Find Time for Each Other”.  Upon reflecting on a particularly busy time in his professional life when his boys were still at home, he remembered the occasions when they asked to play a simple game of catch … and how his thought process developed;

Instead of saying I was busy, I simply said, “Yes.”
We played catch … it took only a brief time.
My sons were really asking if they had my attention.  They did.
Their attention to me was shorter than mine to them. 

The next “movement” in our message has to do with the second part of v. 19 and the whole of verse 20;

“(Everyone should be) … slow to become angry;
for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

It should be noted what James does not say … that anger is completely forbidden in our lives as followers of Jesus.  After all, the emotion of anger is part of the “human package”, so to speak.  Further, it seems to play a very important function in our lives, alerting us to an issue that is sparking emotion and requires our attention.  The folks who study these passages for a living (that is the scholars) believe that what the James may be referring to here is the “righteous indignation” that members of the early Christian church were expressing over the state of society in their day.  Yes, there was a lot to be indignant about (see v. 21) but, as James suggests, it was not going to bring about righteous life in them or others.  The great American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr suggested how “It’s so easy to repent of other people’s sins”, but how, after years in the pastorate as well as in the classroom, it was his observation that, “People must be charmed into righteousness.”  We may feel that we are adequately armed with the truth to address the sinful condition of our world … but unless we are equally endowed with compassion for others, we remain woefully unprepared to minister in our Lord’s name.  One of our own Baptist pastors of another era, Norman Archer, asked this probing question …

“How do you behave in your relationship to others when you
have a point to make?”

However, at the end of the day, we have to prepare for our listening roles by shining the spotlight on our own lives … and so we begin the third “movement” in this passage.  James suggests that the “moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” is a problem for the Christian church as well.  In his day, it had to do with the decline of Judaism to such an extent that religious customs took precedence over the state of society.  Jesus himself warned about such careless regard …

“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence

— Matthew 23:25” 

In our day it might have to do with the slow erosion of the importance of spiritual and moral values in our society.  In essence, we worship the wrong things.  The courts may determine laws to keep the order and ensure the rights of citizens in a free society … but we must look elsewhere to discover truth upon which to base our lives.

But there is another part of this third movement, a type of “3b” if you like.  “Humbly accept the word planted in you” … the pastor writes to his people.  The word “planted” is most illustrative, also having the meaning of “kneading” which we all know has to do with the baking of bread.  The image could not be more striking … that of the master baker, working and shaping into us “the word” … “which can save you.”  The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament describes this word “save” as “an acutely dynamic act in which gods or men snatch others by force from serious peril.”  Our ability or willingness to be good listeners and speakers of the truth is premised upon “the word” patiently kneaded into our lives.  If this has been your experience you know it to be absolutely true … your life has been “snatched from serious peril” because of it.

Reflect

The first Christian pastor ends his message with a practical application, as was his fashion.  Our role is to be much more than mere listeners … we need to act as well;

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (v. 22)

In the listening, speaking and the doing … may you sense His energizing presence.

Prayer

Gracious Father we have been reminded through Your servant James of the wonderful privilege of listening to another.  Through close relationship we are sometimes allowed into the inner sanctum of hearts and lives. We pray that You would make us fit to receive the guarded secrets and inner struggles of those who take us into their confidence.  We know that these are precious moments when Your very Spirit is present … 

As we have heard this scripture today, we are reminded of times when our own anger is expressed unchecked.  We know from personal experience what harm this can do even if we feel we represent Your truth.  At times like these we are led back to the simple words of our brother St. Paul … “Love never fails.”  May all we do in the sharing of Your truth be motivated by the love You possess for all people. 

Finally, we have noted again this week numerous examples of the counter productivity of the anger of humankind within the world that You love.  As we despair of the tensions in so many parts of the globe, we sometimes forget the building blocks of peace, possessed by each one of us.  May we be found employing James’ advice … quick to listen, slow to speak.  There’s not much we can do about bombs dropping on the West Bank, troops amassing at borders or tensions rising from long lines at gas stations … but we have our own part to play.  We pray that You grant us strength and find us faithful.  In the strong name of the Prince of Peace we pray … amen.

Song

Benediction

“I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.” 

— Ezekiel 37:14